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Noteworthy Beginnings

A new box set spotlights the small-band jazz work of trumpeters Louis Prima and Wingy Manone.

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The lives and careers of the early white New Orleans jazzmen evolved in various ways. Irving Rappollo, the brilliant clarinetist of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, was committed as a young man to a mental institution, where he lived out the rest of his life. Nick LaRocca, founder of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, worked in the building business from 1938 to 1958; he retired, embittered by the fact that he was not given more recognition for his pioneering efforts. Younger artists such as Eddie Miller, Ray Bauduc and Nappy Lamare played in the big bands of Ben Pollack and Bob Crosby in the 1930s, then went on to freelance and play Dixieland revival music in the 1950s and later.

A few, Louis Prima and Wingy Manone among them, became popular bandleaders and entertainment figures. Prima was one of the early stars on New York's 52nd Street area, notable for its jazz clubs, then led a successful big band before his legendary years with saxophonist/arranger Sam Butera and singer Keely Smith.

He was discovered by bandleader Guy Lombardo in New Orleans in 1934; Lombardo was so impressed by Prima that he got him a recording contract and tried to find him gigs in New York. Supposedly, Prima was turned down for work at the club Leon and Eddie's. "The owners thought Louis was black due to his kinky hair and olive complexion. Soon, though, Prima was a fixture on the New York jazz scene, and recorded dozens of small group selections," writes Lloyd Rauch in his liner notes to The Complete Brunswick & Vocalion Recordings of Louis Prima and Wingy Manone (1924-1937), Mosaic Record's new six-CD collection of early Prima and Manone music.

Both Prima and Manone cite unrecorded New Orleans trumpet star Buddy Petit as an early influence, but by the time these selections were cut, Louis Armstrong's mark on Prima's singing and playing were evident. Prima was an ebullient entertainer who scats frequently and takes considerable liberties while altering melodies. Many of the pop songs he sings may be undistinguished, but he gets the most out of them. His trumpet playing is relatively flamboyant, displaying power along with good technique and range. His playing here isn't very original however, owing too much to Armstrong.

Prima receives solid support from his sidemen. Trombonist George Brunies and clarinetist Sidney Arodin, both New Orleanians, improvise energetically. Claude Thornhill's piano solos are clean and thoughtful. Perhaps the best playing on the set, however, is contributed by clarinetist Pee Wee Russell. One of the all-time greats on his instrument, Russell varies the timbre of his work, sometimes producing a raw, dirty tone, and employs odd intervals.

Born in 1904, Prima's contemporary Wingy Manone began playing trumpet as a kid, but at the age of 10 lost his right arm in a streetcar accident. Undeterred, he learned to play with his left hand, using a prosthetic right arm to keep his horn in place. He toured as a professional during his teens, sometimes hitching rides on freight trains. For more than a decade Manone scuffled, working in New York, Chicago and St. Louis, and even appearing in vaudeville gigs. He settled in New York in 1934 and began working steadily.

Manone's records sold fairly well, and in 1935 he had a hit with "The Isle of Capri." By now, Manone was an established act, and he was able to get well-paying jobs both in New York and on the road. In the early 1940s, he guested on Bing Crosby's radio show, and did so well that he became a regular with Crosby. This opened the way for him to appear in motion pictures. He continued to play and record until shortly before he died in 1982.

The earliest Manone recordings heard on this set are by a 1924 group, the Arcadian Serenaders. They're interesting and vigorous examples of early jazz on which Manone produces a nice, mellow tone, although his playing is a little stiff; he loosens up on four 1927 numbers that follow. Most of his stuff here, however, was cut from 1934 to 1936, by which time Manone was swinging in an easy, relaxed manner. In format these tracks resemble the Prima selections, with Manone singing pop tunes of the day and playing in a small jazz band. He has an attractively idiosyncratic singing style and plays very well, constructing his lines logically and building well. His playing is more direct and economical than Prima's. Also highlighting the selections are Miller's virile and solid put-together tenor sax solos. As this new reissue demonstrates, he was one of the better and more original tenor saxmen of the 1930s.

The Complete Brunswick & Vocalion Recordings of Louis Prima and Wingy Manone (1924 -1937) features early works from two legendary New Orleans bandleaders.
  • The Complete Brunswick & Vocalion Recordings of Louis Prima and Wingy Manone (1924 -1937) features early works from two legendary New Orleans bandleaders.

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